Safe Harbour reaches five-year milestone

An organization that is committed to helping the City’s homeless recently celebrated its five-year anniversary.

Safe Harbour, located at 5246 53 Ave., opened its doors July 4, 2007.

The Safe Harbour Society, the Residential Society of Red Deer and the Central Alberta Housing Society amalgamated in 2007. Safe Harbour operates three shelter programs in the City including People’s Place, Winter Inn and the Mats program. They also have a 20-bed non-medical detox centre as well as four houses in the City that support clients. They also have a successful Aboriginal program among others.

“Five years ago we were moving into our current location, we were starting to operate and get our bearings. That was a period of significant growth. Since then we’ve really focused on getting the programs that we operate and making sure they are the best they can be,” said Kath Hoffman, executive director. “We also finished a business plan and set our strategic plan for the next five years and we’ve hired a consultant to come in and evaluate all of our programs.

“We had an opportunity to negotiate a contract with Alberta Health Services. AADAC (Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission) was our former funder. We’d been operating on their old contract until this past year. For the first time ever we have a funder giving us three-year funding. That was cause for huge celebration for us.

“Truly when I look back at these five years I look at the incredible journey our staff has taken. They have been challenged, they’ve had to not take things personally, to lose expectations, to open their hearts, to step out with compassion and I am so amazed at how consistently kind they are. It seems like an easy simple sentence, but I know the struggles.”

Last year, Hoffman had the opportunity to go to the Betty Ford Center for a week and participate in training there.

“It was great to go to see the facility and the programs that they operate there. I was struck in particular with their family program. A lot of times when people think about Safe Harbour, they think only detox and they also think of individuals. We know better than that. Everyone that comes here is part of a family,” said Hoffman. “When we have guests come and stay with us, one of the top goals is reconnection with family. Everyone here that is disconnected wishes it wasn’t so.

“We also recognize how much their family members need help, support and understanding too. We don’t just serve individuals.”

Over the last five years, officials with Safe Harbour have worked hard to help the community understand the work they are doing.

“We can certainly understand how the community was feeling (five years ago). Everyone I talked to wanted a detox centre in Red Deer and they knew we needed shelters in Red Deer but they maybe necessarily didn’t want to be beside them. I can understand that,” said Hoffman. “I can speak confidently that we have been a welcome neighbour in this area. We provide 24-hour staff so we have good community watch. We have good relationships with our neighbours.

“Like anything when people become accustomed to it and see what it really is and understand that this is a place for people to go. We are not bringing them here. They are already here; we are just providing that place of welcome and connection.

“In the past five years we have certainly learned a lot and our community has learned a lot. Compassion comes from understanding.”

Meanwhile, there continues to be a waiting list for people seeking treatment at the detox centre. Last year the detox centre served more than 260 people while all three shelter programs saw 800 different people come through.

“When you primarily serve the homeless, the services and programs you offer have to provide that space of welcome and connection and also recognize these guys not only struggle to get into detox but they are also homeless. To have those shelters and detox together help us serve those people. We may be turning them away from detox but maybe we can get them into Mats for the night or to People’s Place. We can help them know where to go while they wait.”

Hoffman added the City has made great strides in helping to combat homelessness in Red Deer and Safe Harbour continues to work with the community on the plans to end homelessness.

“In those plans is the idea of reducing shelter numbers with the idea people will be housed. We are working a lot with the City and the province to recognize this is a complex group of people with a variety of complex needs. It can take some time,” she said.

Moving forward Hoffman said Safe Harbour would like to offer residential treatment.

“We’re working with the City and the rest of the community on taking a picture of Central Alberta and our addictions services and looking at the areas that we think we need to pay attention to. We’ll jump in where we feel we fit best.”

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com